The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie is the first book in the First Law trilogy – and it is definitely the first book in a series. The Blade Itself takes the hard work of the trilogy by being the ‘setup book’, slowly introducing all the characters and their motivations, and bringing them all together for one reason or another. This is actually my greatest frustration with The Blade Itself, not a lot happens, and there are no resolutions or endings by the end of this book or the next – all resolutions are saved up for the finale.
The world that Abercrombie has imagined will be instantly recognisable to anyone who has read fantasy (barbarians to the North, mystical desert dwellers, a haughty central empire), but this soon changes as Abercrombie subverts the genre over the course of the story and makes you reconsider everything you know about his world and the fantasy genre as a whole.
So is reading the whole trilogy worth your time? I’d say yes, the eventual payoffs of the third book are magnificent, the journey and quests of the second book are fulfilling, and the characters are fascinating to watch as they navigate the world and the mysteries that Abercrombie has built into this story.
But this isn’t a review of the whole trilogy, just its first book, and honestly, the characters are the only thing that got me through my initial read of The Blade Itself:
- Glokta is a husk of a man who was brutally tortured and disfigured by his nation’s enemies. He now works for the inquisition, a torturer whose face is a gruesome mirror of his captive’s fate. Glokta is setup to be repulsive to you, with harrowing descriptions of his activities and a very bitter nature, but he is also a tragic figure who constantly questions his own beliefs while suffering through the effects of his injuries. His dark wit and intelligence shines throughout the books and he is without a doubt my favourite character.
- Logen Nine Fingers isn’t your standard barbarian trope. He’s tired of killing and has been exiled by his former king. Logen reminds me of Pratchett’s Cohen the Barbarian, and is a very likeable character that is just trying to survive and forget his past self – with not much success.
- Jezal is the stereotypical foppish noble who has agreed to take part in the annual fencing tournament (a big deal in these books). While all the characters have strong development arcs, Jezal’s is by far the most pronounced and focused on by the author, and is also the most cliche story up until the point that it is not!
- Ferro is an escaped slave from across the sea whose only motivation is revenge on her former masters. Ferro doesn’t turn up until later in the first book (don’t worry, no spoilers, this is just to make sure that you have enough time to be invested in the rest of the characters) and feels very one dimensional. This thankfully changes in book two and three though as she gets more air-time and importance.
- Bayaz is the ancient mage who conspires to bring the four characters together for his own ends. He is the centre of all the mysteries in the series and his likability changes from chapter to chapter for most people.
A very slow start that is made up for by interesting characters and two great follow-up books: 8/10
“Broken hearts heal with time, but broken teeth never do.”
[button_round link=”http://amzn.to/2EzImQL” background_color=”#ff9900″ border_color=”#ff9900″ text_color=”#fff” ]Buy it from Amazon[/button_round]